10 November 2017
The year 2017 has been a big year for mental health in South Africa. The Life Esidimeni case has been one of the big motivators of this grand move towards awareness of mental health problems. The case has drawn some light on the state of mental health services in South Africa, which in all honesty is appalling. It is very concerning that over 100 mental health patients died as a result of the neglect of certain individuals in the health department. This has been a big wake up call for us as South Africans and for the government in that it highlights the fact that our country’s mental health services and resources are inadequate in that there are very limited resources available to those suffering from mental health problems and their families, and many of these are not affordable for the average South African.
The Life Esidimeni case did not only reveal the lack of mental health resources and the inefficiency and unaffordability of the existing resources, it also revealed that there is a lack of awareness around mental health in South Africa. There is a stigma that exists around mental health problems or people suffering from mental health problems. This shows how far we still need to go as a country in terms of understanding mental health and the importance of preserving one’s mental health. Many people and organisations have opened social media pages that serve to bring awareness about mental health to people, some of which also provide a space where people can share their experience with mental health. Reading some of the posts on these pages revealed that many people actually suffer from a variety of mental health problems, some of whom have had to deal with them on their own because of the way mental health is viewed in their culture or communities. The Gauteng department of health and the MEC have recently been addressing this issue by holding events that served to bring awareness about mental health to the Gauteng community. This has started open conversations about mental health in our community, which is a start. A good one at that! We still have a long way to go as people and as a nation when it comes to mental health, but with the department of health taking this first step and with the rise of social media pages that address mental health, we are heading in the right direction. We just hope that one day the importance of mental health will be recognised and that there will be no stigma around it. We also hope that there will be adequate, efficient and affordable mental health services and resources available to the community.